18-Jan-2010 -- My attempt of approaching 12N 37E was far from being successful, since I had the wrong idea how to get there. Only later, back home, I became aware how near I had made it to the point but unknowingly I screwed it up!
This zero point hunt was part of a 4-week trip to Ethiopia in January/February 2010. Few places in the world have such a bad image like this country. It mostly stems from an event in the mid-eighties when drought and civil war led to the death of hundreds of thousand people. Pictures of starving children with flies in their eyes still prevail in public perception.
But if you arrive there you'll find a completely different scene: You will be magically attracted by beautiful pictures you won't get out of your mind. You'll often feel like travelling to the past. A gorgeous mountainous country and a unique and fascinating culture that isn't yet touched much by Western influence. You'll meet lovely people with enchanting charisma expressing a sort of warm coolness.
While one can cover the distance between Bahir Dar and Gonder, two of the more touristy hotspots in Ethiopia in a 4-hour busride, a great alternative is to take the ferry on Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile. It's a once weekly two-day trip, spending the night ashore in K'unzila. My intention lay mostly in doing the trip itself, but I also thought it might be possible to get to a Confluence not far from the overnight stop.
Departure from Bahir Dar was early in the morning - as usual when travelling in Ethiopia. By 5.30 a.m. (or 11.30 Ethiopian time) I was at the harbour and my mood wasn't too good when I saw hordes of people already storming the rusty old ship. I already saw myself standing between donkey and cow for two days. But when I got onboard, someone grabbed my arm and dragged me on the wooden bench next to him. It were Charley and Shusha, a couple from Jekaterinburg in Russia on their trip through Ethiopia and Somaliland - a de facto independent country not yet overrun by confluence hunters. Together with me from Freiburg in Germany, we were up to build a travel trio for the next week.
We departed at dawn at 6 a.m. - 3 tourists, about 200 Ethiopians, two cows, and a donkey on board. A little irritating to see that the small lifeboat was already occupied too. Fortunately the situation became less claustrophobic when most of the passengers disembarked on the first stop in Zegē, site of one of the most impressive monasteries at the lake. There is a shack like museum where a dozen old emperors' crowns, some dating back to the 14th century, are just protected by a rusty padlock. It's somehow typical for this country, where written history often melts with sometimes bizarre legends like „The monastery was built by angels with the help of giraffes and elephants“, or „The king dug a tunnel to Jerusalem, so he could get there in two days.“ Unfortunately today the entrance has collapsed, but the abundance of Ethiopian marathon runners suggests this legend to be the truth! So it still remains unclear if the original Ark of the Covenant is really stored in a small chapel in Āksum. Maybe Indiana Jones should be reactivated!
The water was calm, the misty morning lake melted with the sky in a blurred horizon. Our next stop was on Dek island, the biggest island in the lake. I tried to get some lunch but the only thing I could find were some biscuits sold in a hole-in-the-wall-shop. According to the taste they were more than a quarter century old!
Back on the ship, lazily moving on to K'unzila, we whiled time away, chewing chat and chatting with fellow passengers in a mixture of English and a sort of nonverbal Amharic. We swapped roasted barley (the Ethiopian popcorn) with our biscuits (I felt a bit ashamed to share mine!). In the meantime the donkey was grazing on the sugarcane next to him, not necassarily meant to be his food supply.
By 3 p.m. we reached K'unzila, a place anything between a village and a town but at least some buses were standing in one of the two streets. We checked into a basic hotel - clay-walled rooms with corrugated iron doors, no running water or electricity but with the luxury of clean bedsheets, a water bucket, and a 15-minute-candle - one of these places where bug and flea say goodnight to each other.
I checked my GPS and it showed that I was still more than 15 km south from the point. As it was already 4 p.m., I felt it was completely impossible to attain my goal. Instead we managed to find a place where Tej was served, the excellent Ethiopian honey wine. It is traditonally served in flasks that seem to have their origin from a chemical laboratory. The Tej provided a good sleep while the bar next door broadcasted English Premier League overshouting the power generator that nailed into the night.
The night was not over when it was time to prepare for departure again. To my surprise no insects had dined on me. Since the candle wasn't anymore, I grabbed my stuff together with a torch in my mouth. At 5 a.m. we were ready to wake up the roosters.
After passing the 12th parallel at 7 a.m. and taking photos of both GPS and confluence vicinity, I strangely didn't waste another thought on the geography-by-numbers game. So, when we arrived in Eseydbir a few miuntes later, we were just eager to organize something for breakfast and we got some tasty omelettes, fresh bread, and a cup of that great Ethiopian coffee.
Some weeks later back home, after some research on the internet and a virtual travel with Google Earth, I realized that this village is just a little more than 2 kilometers from the precisely nowhere point. Even more: there is a straight track to another village passing the Confluence at 5 meters distance! But I did not get nearer than 2.2 km.
In Eseydbir there was no sign of any motorized vehicles - and the roads looked only suitable for donkey carts. The tail of children we dragged behind us signalized that this place rarely gets in contact with foreigners.
I daydreamed the next few hours away only interrupted by a lengthy stop in Delgī. This place has a slight urban flair with even some roadtraffic. On the last stretch between Delgī and Gorgora, the ship was nearly empty, indicating that both places are easily reached on roads.
Arriving at 3 p.m. Gorgora had another surprise for us. This place harbours a ridiculously oversized hotel set inside a huge beautiful garden full of birds. I can't remember to have ever stayed in a place where it takes 5 minutes to walk from the room to the reception.
The evening passed by with a few flasks of Tej again. This time the bar was a private living room with a flickering LED-chain around a TV airing a live coverage of the Timkat festivities in nearby Gonder, where we went the next day.
Now it's up to you!
While it seems possible to reach either Delgī or K'unzila by bus from Bahir Dar or Gonder, it is unclear if there is public transport between these places. It might as well be possible to rent a car to get as far as Eseydbir. But I guess the best way to get to the point is by ferry - if your schedule matches the schedule of the ship.
Once in Eseydbir one hour could be enough to get to the Confluence and back, but it might be better to ask the friendly ferry captain to extend the stay a little bit. If you convince him with a smile or, well, a small donation, he probably might accept, if he's not too busy.